Anglers: It Better Bug You–The Coming Insect Armageddon

March 2021

During my professional career as a land use and environmental attorney, I worked with local governments, conservationists, and biologists across the United States to protect wildlife habitat.  There were wins, there were setbacks, but I was always optimistic that we were making progress.  In retirement I have kept my finger on the pulse of things in the field while turning to a second career writing for outdoor magazines and conducting more personal on-stream piscatorial research (AKA fly fishing).  Now the two are intersecting in an unexpected and troubling way.  Entomologists are sounding the alarm about the cataclysmic decline in insects around the world, calling it the Insect Armageddon.  As pollinators, food providers, pest controllers, decomposers, and soil engineers bugs are a key part of the very foundation for all life on the planet.  That means, of course, for the fish we love to pursue.  Already we are starting to see the decline of aquatic insects that could have a devastating impact on fishing—witness the 50% drop in mayflies in the upper Midwest just since 2012. 

Goodbye Mayflies??

What can we do about it?  For some ways each of us can answer the call to action click on the Powerpoint presentation below that I will presenting at a national land use and environmental conference later this month.   The future of our sport may depend on it!!

Looking Back On 2020: The Best, The Bummers, The Bloodcurdling….and Beyond

Early January 2021

Greetings to all my friends and readers. I hope your holidays were peaceful. Here’s wishing for all of us a great 2021. It’s been a very interesting and rewarding year writing my blog. One of the few benefits of Covid-19 was providing plenty of social distancing time to pen articles as well as to explore not only those remote places I love while conducting serious piscatorial research but also waters close to home that I had overlooked and new species of fish.

 I was gratified in January that 2020 kicked off with Southwest Fly Fishing publishing an article I wrote about Treasure Creek in southern Colorado, an out-of-the way stream high in the Rockies that is one of the few that harbors native Rio Grande Cutthroats. 

Chasing Native Rio Grande Cutthroats On Treasure Creek

After that things changed quickly as reflected in my next article in the May issue of Florida Sportsman about fishing safely through the Corona virus. 

You can find links below to both of the pieces. 

Treasure Creek: https://hooknfly48.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/treasure-creek-article-sw-fly-fishing-jan-2020.pdf

Fishing Through The Corona Virus (full article): https://hooknfly.com/2020/04/04/fishing-through-the-corona-crisis/

Apparently lots of other anglers had some time on their hands as by the end of the year over 43,000 people had visited my blog site with over 93,000 views, an almost 90% increase over 2019. Thanks to you all!

Among them were readers from over 70 nations ranging from China to Kenya to Finland to Brazil.  I will have to admit my readership from Russia plunged to only two, perhaps reflecting I’m off Putin’s watch list after publishing a not-so-flattering photo of him accompanied by some wisecracks in an article about fishing Saguache Creek a couple of years go.  Whew!  That obviously gave his minions more time for hacking.

All kidding aside, as we look forward to a year that just has to be better than the last, it reminds me there were lots of good things to remember about 2020.  So here is my annual retrospective on the best and the bummers of the past year.

Cream of the Crop:  Two things really standout as cream of the crop.  First, as you might imagine, for a septuagenarian grandpa, nothing can compare to spending time on the water with my sweetheart of a four-year old granddaughter Aly.  We started out in May catching some nice rainbow trout at Staunton State Park west of Denver.  A few months later she pulled her first yellow perch from Eagle Watch Lake in Denver.  A garden hackle lure was the ticket. But the moment I remember best was after she had practiced casting a few times in 2019 with her new spin cast outfit, I said to her let’s go fishing and you can practice casting some more.  She looked at me very seriously and said somewhat impatiently, “But Grandpa, I already know how to cast.”  And later that day she proved she could!

Another high point was the connection I made with my readers, making new friends around the country.   We exchanged emails and phone calls and are hoping to do some fishing together next year.  Thanks to  Randy, Wendy, JD, Jim, Chip, Dan, Bill, George, and others for your kind words.  Looking forward to hitting the water with you in 2021.  Just promise not to outfish me!

Most Gratifying:  Another yearly sweet spot is hosting an annual fishing trip in the Colorado high country with my erstwhile Florida fishing buddy Robert Wayne, Esq.  We are both what might be called elders of the angling community.  I get a real kick out of hosting Bob and guiding him on some of my favorite waters for a couple of weeks, even taking him to some of my top-secret creeks.  In 2020 Bob wanted to catch a cutthroat, a fish that had eluded him during his storied international fishing peregrinations.  We hiked a couple of miles into a high mountain valley through which flows one of my favorite streams, a Herculean task for two old codgers.  But when Bob fooled that handsome 15-inch cutt, the smile on his face was ample remuneration. 

Counselor Corrals Nice Cutt

Earlier in the summer, it was payback time to some fish in a high alpine valley that was also extremely gratifying. Two years ago I hiked about eight miles roundtrip to chase some giant cutthroat trout in Upper Sand Creek Lake in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of southern Colorado. The trout were there as I had been promised, but to my great consternation for almost five hours these behemoths repeatedly turned up their noses to practically every fly and lure in my fly vest. With my tail between my legs and the odor of a skunk in the air, I left the lake vowing I shall return. Fast forward to June of 2020, and I hiked back into Lower Sand Creek Lake and exacted some measure of revenge. Fooling many large cutthroats that were cruising the shoreline, I had one of my best days ever on a high-mountain lake where, as experienced anglers know, the fish can be maddenly finicky. See for yourself: https://hooknfly.com/2020/07/25/return-to-sand-creek-lakes-revenge-of-the-skunked/

Another particularly gratifying episode has been the response to a series of my blog articles entitled The Best Fishing Books of All Time.  Over the past couple of years I have been heartened to see a cohort of younger anglers (AKA as anyone under 40 whom I call “young bloods”) taking up the sport, both men and women.  Hopefully, they will be the next generation of anglers who will not only enjoy the sport but fight to protect and preserve the waters we all cherish.  Thanks to a bout of annoying sciatica in October, I had time on my hands to write five articles in which I described dozens of my favorite books about fishing in several categories including “best literature,” “funny bone ticklers,” and “fish that shaped the world,” among others.  My goal was to introduce the young bloods to the grand tradition and history of our sport dating back hundreds of years.

My Choice For The Best Angling
Book Of All Time

I always feel that any endeavor is greatly enhanced by knowledge of its tradition and history.  By the end of the year the articles had been read by over a thousand people and is now one of the top results on the web when you google “best books about fishing.”  Here’s a link to the first of five installments: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

Most Popular Posts:  Surprisingly, the most popular freshwater article was one from 2019 on fishing for trout on the scenic Conejos River in southern Colorado, just north of the border with New Mexico.  There were almost 3,000 hits on this post, which is somewhat astounding given the fact it is nowhere near any large population centers plus the Conejos is not one of the more fabled rivers in the state like the Gunnison, Arkansas, and South Platte.   Here is a link to the article: https://hooknfly.com/2019/09/26/solving-the-conejos-river-conundrum/

While I would like to think it must be my captivating literary style that proved so attracting, I have a hunch its success is more likely attributable to the hordes of pesky Texan fly fishing anglers doing research before they invade southern Colorado in the summer and sample the nearest trout stream to the Lone Star State. (Just kidding guys and gals…we love to take your money, but just make sure you return home come September.)

Also worthy of attention is a trio of articles about trying to find fish AND solitude in the waters of South Park around Fairplay, Colorado.  South Park, and particularly the waters of the South Platte, is overrun with anglers from nearby Denver and Colorado Springs.  They do catch some big fish, but it’s often combat-style fishing, especially on weekends.  I wrote about three small creeks where solitude and good fishing, often a rarity, go hand-in-hand. 

The trio of posts has been viewed by over 3,000 people.  Even so I haven’t run into many anglers on any of them this past summer. Take a look: https://hooknfly.com/2019/10/07/mission-impossible-searching-for-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/

The most popular saltwater post was once again about kayak fishing around Bahia Honda State Park, Florida’s most popular.  I am hoping to get back down to the Keys to update the article this spring. https://hooknfly.com/2018/06/18/bahia-honda-grab-bag-kayak-and-wade-fishing-around-bahia-honda-state-park-florida-keys/

Biggest Fish: There is no doubt that despite however sporting and conservation-minded most anglers are, they like to brag about their biggest fish. I plead guilty. My two freshwater leviathans were, oddly enough, caught in the Everglades where most of my angling is in saltwater. Unbeknown to most anglers, the Everglades is dotted with small freshwater and brackish lakes and canals that often hold big largemouth bass and exotic, colorful peacock bass. I did a fair amount of sleuthing and found several that ended up producing a seven-pound largemouth and five-pound peacock. https://hooknfly.com/2020/11/15/freshwater-bass-fishing-in-the-everglades/

Here in Colorado my two biggest fish, an alpine lake cutthroat and a rainbow from the Arkansas, both went about 18-inches. I won’t mention the bigger ones on which I adroitly executed long-distance releases.

In saltwater, my best catches were two snook in the Everglades, one in January and the other in March.  One that pushed 30-inches was caught in a brackish lake also frequented by largemouth bass. 

Surprise Snook!

The other caught in a narrow tidal creek in the Everglades backcountry was my best of the year at 31-inches. Talk about utter mayhem before I could coax her away from those infernal mangrove roots and to the boat.

Bummers:  Perhaps the biggest bummer was, of course, related to Covid-19, but not in the way I expected.  Fishing is a great way to socially distance and you don’t have to wear a mask most of the time.  No problem there.  What I didn’t anticipate was the virus would be a force that hobbled many  angling and outdoor-related magazines that have published my articles and the death knell for others like the venerable American Angler.  That magazine carried some of my first fishing articles back in the 90s.  When the virus hit many fishing-related businesses either shut down permanently or temporarily and cut back dramatically on their advertising which staggered many angling magazines and book publishers.  As a result, after a piece on Treasure Creek was published by Southwest Fly Fishing in January, only one other of my articles made it into print in 2020, ironically one in Florida Sportsman that dealt with tips on fishing through the Corona crisis!

I also had to grapple with an acute case of sciatica in late summer that cut down on my ability to explore and chase trout in some of those small creeks in rugged Colorado canyons that are dear to my heart.  It reminded me growing old isn’t for the faint of heart.  Fortunately I am on the mend so hope springs eternal, and scenes of backcountry soirées in both Colorado and Florida keep dancing in my head.

Burst Bubbles:  In my spare time one of my favorite endeavors is sleuthing on-line or using Google Maps and other GPS apps to discover remote backcountry creeks in Colorado that just might be loaded with eager trout.  It’s a hit or miss game, about 25% of the time turning up a goose egg.  This year the honor goes to Nutras Creek, a tributary of Cochetopa Creek on the edge of the La Garita Wilderness Area in south central Colorado.  I have had some of the best fishing days over the past few years on Cochetopa and other of its tributaries.  I had driven over Nutras Creek many times, and a couple of cryptic posts online reported some big brook trout hiding in the beaver ponds that dot the stream.  Google Maps confirmed there were literally dozens of good-sized beaver ponds up- and downstream from the access road.  A month later I eagerly made the hour drive from my mobile fish camp only to find most of the beaver ponds were gone, kaput, extinct, washed out! 

While I managed to catch enough brookies in the few small ponds that remained and in the creek, I went home issuing a plethora of epithets directed towards Google Maps for not updating its satellite photos thereby leading me on this wild goose chase!  Fortunately a few weeks later my sleuthing paid off with a Century Club day on another remote creek that shall remain nameless.

The Bloodcurdling:  Spending time in the wilds, either in the Colorado mountains or the Everglades backcountry, you’re bound to have some exciting moments—one reason I carry a Garmin satellite text phone in case I get in trouble.  This year was no exception.  Two of the bloodcurdlers were close encounters of the wildlife kind.  Last year it was a truculent Burmese Python in the Everglades.  This year it was a big 12-foot gator that I stumbled on in my kayak, passing within 15-feet of the big boy as I emerged from a mangrove tunnel into blind turn.  I was close enough to the prehistoric looking creature to be able to count the gnarly teeth protruding from his jaws.  

Close Encounter of the Gator Kind

Fortunately it was a very cool day so he was content to bask in the sun and let this intruder beat a hasty retreat. 

The second close encounter took place a few months later in the Colorado high country.  I was finishing up a successful day of fishing on a remote creek when I heard some noise in the woods above me.  I turned and saw a moose with a giant set of horns ambling my way down the slope. 

Moose On The Loose

Moose are often very belligerent, especially cows with a calf. Again I lucked out as the moose eyed me contemptuously then turned around and proceeded to saunter away insouciantly as if I wasn’t worth paying any heed to.

The most dangerous moment, however, came when I made an ill-advised decision to descend an extremely steep slope with loose scree into a canyon to reach an alluring creek far below. 

On Verge Of Rash Decision

I quickly realized the fix I was in and thought this may be a case where things that go down never come back up.  I was carrying two fishing rods and a small insulated bag with my lunch in it when I lost my footing and started to slide down on my keister.  I quickly jettisoned the lunch bag and tried to grab some brush to stop my descent without breaking my rods or body parts. Finally about twenty feet down I lunged and latched onto some sturdy brush and was able to finally dig my boots in and stop.  I took a deep breath and turned around to chart my course back out, but realized there was no way to go back up. 

Reminder: What Goes Down May Not Come Back Up!

So I carefully picked my way down to the creek and proceeded to have a banner day fishing. Luckily I found a still steep, but more navigable route out later that afternoon. For the rest of the story, see: https://hooknfly.com/2020/10/07/slightly-addled-senior-goes-slip-sliddin-away-down-steep-slope-for-trout/.

Best Laughs:  Closely tied to the blood curdling slide above was the fate of the canvas lunch bag I was carrying.  When I gave it the heave to free up a hand to slow my descent, it started flying down the long steep slope, bouncing off rocks and gaining speed by the second.  Suddenly something started to gush from its sides making it look like a pinwheel as it careened towards the creek.  When I retrieved it 10 minutes later I was delighted to find most everything was intact except for a can of the elixir known as Squirt soda pop that had split open.  That explained the small geyser spewing from the bag on the way down.  It may have been gallows humor, but I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched its flight down the rocky slope. 

The Flying Lunch Bag Survives

Another good guffaw involved the tale of the broken rod. I rarely break a fishing rod while chasing trout. One exception this year was when I left a rod leaning on my SUV then backed out and crushed the tip. Temple Fork Outfitters graciously replaced it with a newer better model at a modest cost for shipping. But in the Everglades I average three broken rods a year which I attribute to much larger fish that I tangle with in tight quarters in mangrove tunnels, often in my kayak. Certainly could not be lack of skill. This year the broken rod tale was under much different circumstances. I was on an outing with my accomplished fishing friend from Georgia, Steve Keeble. We were on a quest for snook in my Gheenoe in the Everglades backcountry. We caught plenty of snook but then decided to take a breather in a slow-moving backwater off the main channel. It was loaded with forage fish, and soon we started to see black tip shark cruising everywhere. I suggested we have a little fun, so chunked up a ladyfish and baited it on my stoutest rod I typically use for large tarpon. I handed it to Steve, and a shark quickly gulped the savory meal. I yelled “set it hard,” which Steve dutifully did, which was followed by a loud crack as the rod snapped in half.

Steve exhibited his considerable angling skill by continuing to fight and land the truculent critter with half a rod as I doubled over with laughter. Of course the joke was on me with the broken rod, which Steve graciously replaced.

Biggest Surprise: My biggest—and most pleasant—surprises all came on freshwater lakes in the Everglades. Most of my fishing in the Glades is done in tidal creeks or the Everglades backcountry where the water is salty. When the Corona virus hit south Florida, mobs of anglers sans masks or any attempt at social distancing descended from the Miami area and Fort Meyers, where public boat ramps had been closed, on our local boat ramp on Chokoloskee Island. One morning at one point a line of over 50 boats were waiting to launch.

Knucklehead Invasion

Not wanting to tempt fate or run into the hordes in the backcountry, I decided to investigate some of the nearby freshwater lakes inland that usually receive little pressure.  Boy I am sure glad I did.  As noted above, over a period from late March until early April I caught and released some big largemouth and peacock bass and a hefty snook that had somehow found her way into a lake just off the Tamiami Trail.  Who knows how she got there as there were no canals or creeks leading into the lake, but who am I to complain!

I received another pleasant surprise on the South Fork of the South Platte later that summer back in Colorado.  I had set out to fish the South Fork in the flatlands of South Park, but when I got there the stream was blown out, muddy water filling it from bank-to-bank.  Undaunted, I decided to drive the some 20 miles up towards historic Weston Pass to fish some beaver ponds on the South Fork headwaters.   Posts from local fly shops said the fishing there was challenging as the ponds were overgrown with brush, however still fun for small brookies but nothing else.  The ponds were definitely there, stretching for miles along the creek, and the brookies were eager.  But I had a hunch the attractive short stretches of open running water between the ponds might just harbor some bigger fish…and they did.  I managed to catch several handsome cutthroats, one that went 15-inches.  Definitely a satisfying surprise! https://hooknfly.com/2020/06/07/on-the-road-to-riches-finding-fish-and-solitude-in-south-park/.

Birthday Century Club:  One of my annual traditions is to take a multi-day solo high-country fishing trip in Colorado on my birthday in late July.  And part of that tradition is to see if I can catch as many fish as my years on this planet, which in 2020 were 72.  I had my sights set on a comely little creek hidden in a canyon that I had only recently discovered last year and had fished but once.  Not only did that little jewel produce fish in numbers—I caught and released over 100 wild trout thus qualifying for the Century Club—but my efforts were rewarded with a high-country slam–a cutthroat, brown, and brookie, with the cutt and brownie coming in as a double!  Not sure how many more years I can make a trek like that, so this one was all the more to savor.

Most Beautiful Fish:  The beautiful coloration and intricate patterns fish sport never cease to amaze me, nature seemingly able to exceed anything thing I could imagine.  In freshwater this year the honors went to the stunning cutthroat trout of Lower Sand Lake and the gorgeous Arkansas River rainbow trout, the last fish I caught late in December.  On the saltwater side, it was hard to beat the riotously colored Peacock Bass and Atomic Sunfish (AKA Mayan Cichlids) that I fooled on a freshwater lake in the Everglades. 

Old Dog, New Tricks: The older I get, the more I get set in my ways, for example, in the species of fish that I chase and the techniques that I employ to catch them. So it was with the antediluvian long-nose gar that proliferate in the brackish water of Everglades tidal creeks, canals, and ponds. I had hooked many a gar while chasing snook and redfish, but never landed one. I considered them a nuisance despite their fighting ability. Gar have long bony mouths filled with hundreds of sharp little teeth that make them extraordinarily difficult to hook. They are shunned by most sport anglers because of the challenge hooking them as well as their truculent tendency of trying to bite one if hooked. They are reportedly good to eat but nearly impossible to clean due to armor-like scales. But one day in February when I ran into a huge school of spawning gar and hooked and lost fish after fish, I vowed to master the fine art of catching the toothy torpedoes. Back home I found a number of articles by good ole boys from the South who actually specialize in gar fishing. I learned that I needed some specialized lures to catch these prehistoric fish. These off-beat lures, which are made out of unraveled nylon rope, have no hooks at all but rely on the nylon fabric to ensnare those needle-sharp teeth. Not available at local tackle shops, I crafted a few of my own that I thought turned out rather well.

Homemade Gar Lures, Sans Hooks

On my very first day on the water with one of my handsome creations I cast with extreme confidence towards a gaggle of gar porpoising on the surface in a canal along the Tamiami trail. Something erupted from the water, and I was astounded to see it was a giant snook that had inhaled the lure. Unfortunately, since the lure had no hooks, the snook had to merely shake her head and was soon cruising away scot free. To make matters worse, I also had a tough time hanging onto the gar that smashed the lure time and again. So it was back to the drawing boards where on the advice of another gar hunter on-line, I added a small trailing treble hook and didn’t friz out the nylon . That would prove to be the answer. On my next outing I hooked dozens of feisty gar and managed to land several as substantiated by the photo below. The lure in the middle shows the results of grappling with the nasty gar teeth. Guess it goes to prove that an old dog can indeed learn new tricks! For the full story of chasing the prehistoric gar, see https://hooknfly.com/2020/04/15/in-defense-of-the-antediluvian-gar/.

Most Scenic:  The little secret creek mentioned above in the Birthday Century Club was hands down the winner of most scenic.  As I approached the canyon rim an incredible scene opened before me, reminding me of the mythical Shangri La.  See for yourself!

Into The Future—2021 And Beyond: I’m anticipating 2021 with high hopes. Only a few days into the New Year, I’ve already caught my first fish, a nice brownie from the Arkansas River on an icy cold day featuring my rod guides clogged with ice. I also got in some practice on my patented long-distance releases, magnanimously freeing a couple of bruisers.

First Fish Of The New Year!

Now one of my readers has just invited me to do some ice fishing for big trout in frozen Antero Reservoir located in frigid South Park (Antero hit 50 below zero a couple of weeks ago!).  I haven’t ice fished for 15 years since doing so with my son Matthew when he was in high school.  Should be interesting and will probably spur a hasty return to Florida!

My first order of business will be to finish the Paddlers Fishing Guide To The Everglades that in 2020 I signed a contract to write.  The publisher will be Wild Adventures Press, one of the leading fishing guide producers.  I’m already thinking about marketing the book, especially in a time of Covid-19.  I had my first trial run making a presentation to the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers Club out of Sarasota.  My friend Jim Cannon, a club member, invited me to host a Zoom meeting focusing on some of my favorite kayak fishing creeks in the Everglades.  It was great fun answering questions from the 30 or so members, and the positive response was very heartening as witnessed by this very kind letter from the club’s president:

Chris—I have one word to describe your presentation to our club.  OUTSTANDING.  I was telling Ethan earlier today that your presentation was one of the top two or three that I can remember in the ten years I have been a member of MCFF.  Your information, diagrams, stories, and friendly demeanor, along with some great pics, made for an awesome evening….Hope to meet you in person in the near future.  Tight lines.  Ken B. 

If any of my readers would like me to make a Zoom presentation to your fishing or kayaking group on either fly fishing for trout in Colorado or saltwater fishing in the Everglades, I would be happy delighted to oblige.  It’s been a reel…er…real treat to meet so many fine people and avid anglers over the past five years through my blog, and I look forward to more in 2021. I’ll be adhering to the following New Year’s Resolution:

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #4

October 2020

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading.  Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure.  If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books.   Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change.  For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing.  Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist.  Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade.  The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60). 

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists.  I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine.  So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each.  I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.”  I will be posting the list in a series of five installments.  I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have. 

This installment covers three categories from the list below:  Science and Entomology, Travel/Guidebooks, and Saltwater.

Installment 1 Link:  https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

Installment 2 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/09/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-2/?fbclid=IwAR3uBFsuuSQqAaiHnie6LT3Jhu-PyCm_18sjjmIQeSmognnyJ-8lVyny-34

Installment 3 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/09/11/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-3/

Installment 5 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/10/22/best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-5/

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel/Guidebooks

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

Science and Entomology Of Fishing

Before 1970, just as I was beginning to really delve into fly fishing, aside from Ernest Schweibert’s classic Matching The Hatch, there was very little written of consequence about the wide variety of insects trout prefer, their life cycles, and how to tie flies that mimicked the various stages of their development.  Many flies bore little resemblance at all to anything a trout might actually eat.  All that changed in 1971 with Selective Trout, a 184-page tome that stressed the importance of collecting insect samples on the stream, surface and subsurface, with small nets then taking them home in little bottles to be examined under a magnifying glass or microscope followed by tying flies that were true to the natural.  Over the next 30 years more weighty works were written that went into even greater detail about caddis, may, and stone flies, the three principle insects trout dine on.  This more methodical, scientific approach to trout fishing spawned a revolution among fly anglers and an entire new catalog of artificial flies.   As one observer quipped at the time, if you finished one of these detailed books you were on the verge of a degree in entomology.   Now there are literally dozens of books on what might be categorized as fly fishing entomology.  In this section I focus on several of the early iconic books that changed the course of fly tying and fly fishing and others of more recent vintage I found to be of most practical use.  For a more detailed list of fly fishing entomological books, see the website at www.flyfishingentomology.

Matching The Hatch:  A Practical Guide to Imitation of Insects Found On Eastern and Western Trout Waters (1955)—Ernest Schweibert

Matching The Hatch was a book that was far ahead of its time, providing trout anglers with their first useful guide to identifying streamside insects and flies that matched them.  Penned by Ernest Schwiebert, one of the most prolific authors of fly-fishing tomes of all time, Matching The Hatch was such a hit in the fly-fishing community that soon after its publication he was profiled in Life magazine.  Schweibert, an architect with two doctorates who specialized in planning airports and military bases, is considered by many as the leading modern-day angling author.  In this book and others that followed such as Nymphs and the two-volume Trout, Schweibert exhibited his rare gift of being able to take a technical subject and translate it into readable, enjoyable prose.  He also wrote a series of entertaining, engaging collections of short stories such as Remembrances of Rivers Past.

Selective Trout (1970)—Doug Swisher and Carl Richards

One would hardly guess that a revolution in fishing was started by a plastic salesman and a dentist, but that’s Swisher and Richards.  I remember plunking down the princely sum of $6.95 in the early 70s to purchase their book that was being widely hailed as “a dramatically new and scientific approach to trout fishing.”  And it was.  Angling icons like Art Flick, Joe Brooks, and Dan Baily sang its praises.  Their volume is chock full of hand-drawn illustrations of bugs and artificial imitations plus color photographs of the hatches across the country.  In the wake of the book, like many other anglers, I started carrying glass vials to keep the bugs I found on a stream as well as a net to catch them on the wing and another to seine with.  While a good number of us have become a tad less dedicated to a meticulous entomological approach when we hit the water, Selective Trout forever changed the sport of fly fishing and has withstood the test of time.

Stoneflies (1980)—Carl Richards, Doug Swisher, and Fred Arbona, Jr.

This is one of my favorite entomological works because it focuses on an insect I love to imitate, particularly using nymphs, one that many anglers overlook.  Co-written by the authors of the landmark Selective Trout, this book is one of the few that provides an exhaustive examination of stoneflies, often overlooked as one of the big three of insects savored by trout alongside mayflies and caddis.  It is a weighty tome in the style of LaFontaine’s Caddis, but presents information on habitat, hatches, and imitations in a clear, readable fashion.

Caddisflies (1981)—Gary LaFontaine

This book started the caddisfly insurgency, first by demonstrating that on many waters caddisflies are the predominant aquatic food eaten by trout, then by presenting a painstakingly detailed study of the biology of caddisflies, and finally offering savvy, practical insights on tying and fishing caddisfly imitations.  At 336 pages, LaFontaine’s treatise isn’t exactly a book one might carry on the stream, but back at home and on the fly tying bench it is an essential reference.

The Complete Book of Western Hatches (1981)—Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes

Although almost 40-years old, this book is one that I still refer to from time-to-time.  Its focus on western hatches is especially valuable to Colorado anglers.  Combining for the first time the scientific knowledge of an aquatic entomologist, Rick Hafele, and the extensive hands-on experience of a noted fly fishing practitioner and author, The Complete Book of Western Hatches is organized in a highly practical and readable format.  For each aquatic insect if sets out the common name, emergence and distribution, physical characteristics, habitat, habits, appropriate flies, and presentation tips.  In 2004 the authors followed up with another excellent book, Western Mayfly Hatches.

Guide To Aquatic Trout Foods (1982)—Dave Whitlock

Most anglers know Whitlock through his many innovative fly patterns such as the venerable and still effective Dave’s Hopper.  He has also written several excellent books on fly fishing.  This is one of my favorite “bug” books mainly because Whitlock covers the eight major kinds of trout food including not only insects but also crayfish, leeches, and forage fish in a practical fashion with just the right amount of detail for the average angler.  Then in his patented practical, easy-to-read fashion Whitlock discusses best flies and fishing technique for each.  I met Whitlock in the early 1990s when I attended one of his presentations at a fly fishing show in Denver.  My autographed copy of his book is one of my prized angling library possessions. 

Mayflies (1997)—MalcolmKnopp and Robert Courmier

This book has been called “the mayfly bible for serious fly fishers.”  Written by two Canadians from Alberta who had never authored any serious fly fishing publication before,  Mayflies at almost 400 pages, is definitely the weight of authority and the book to have for those looking to take their game to the next level.

Hatch Guide For Western Streams/Hatch Guide For Lakes (1995-7)—Jim Schollmeyer

As noted above, most of the revered trout entomological books run into the hundreds of pages and are hardly tomes that the aspiring angler/ entomologist might carry on the stream for instant reference.  In contrast, Schoolmeyer’s Hatch Guide series is in a compact 4” X 6” format that is eminently portable on the water and is easily digested by novices–they remain one of the most useful of all guides in my library.  Each guide opens with a section on understanding the type of water body being fishing followed by one on tackle and technique.   The final section focuses on the main insects and other food such as beetles and leaches trout will likely be dining on.  It features clear color photographs of the insect and naturals plus three suggested flies to match the hatch.  The guide for lakes is particularly valuable as lake fishing for trout is often more challenging than in streams, each body of water seemingly inhabited by fish that can be maddingly selective.   Indeed, the last time I was skunked a few years ago it was on an alpine lake where after four hours of fishing for giant cutthroats cruising the shoreline in clear view, I managed only a couple of bites.

The Bug Book:  A Fly Fisher’s Guide To Trout Stream Insects (2015)—Paul Weamer

This excellent book provides an up-to-date guide to aquatic trout food, hatch charts, fly pattern recommendations, and fishing technique tips and strategies.  As a reviewer in Fly Fisherman magazine wrote, The Bug Book “breaks down the barriers between amateur and entomologist in a conversational tone, and explains when and why identifying insects can be fun and practical. This is no snobby book.” 

Travel/Guidebooks

I’m not a big fan of the average fishing guidebook or fishing travel account—they are usually superficial on most levels, and the authors often are not intimately familiar with the waters they write about but relay second-hand information.  But there are a few exceptions.  Those that have caught my attention inevitably have a personal touch rather than just where to go and how to fish once you get there.  Moreover, I find that if the author has actually fished the waters he writes about more than once or twice, explores the colorful characters and culture of the region inhabited by their finned quarry, and puts some of his personality on the pages, the book is likely to be more useful from a piscatorial perspective and definitely more enjoyable to read. 

Fly-Fishing The 41st Around The World On The 41st Parallel–James Prosek

This is my favorite fishing/travel book by a substantial margin.  Prosek is more widely known in the angling world for his artwork.  Indeed, the New York Times has called him the Audubon of the fishing world.  You will find some of his beautiful images illustrating this wonderful book, but it is much more.  Proseck sets off to fish around the world, following the 41st Parallel.  Along the way he meets and has amazing adventures with a host of memorable characters like Johannes, a baker in France, who takes him on harrowing quests for rare species of trout in places like the war zone of southeast Turkey.  Along the way you will come to the conclusion that angling is indeed as close a universal language as there is.  Be sure to have a world map handy so you can follow his peregrinations around the globe. 

52 Rivers: A Woman’s Fly-Fishing Journey—Shelly Walchak

Shelly Walchak quit her job as a librarian in 2013, bought a camper, and challenged herself by taking off on an incredible year-long journey through seven Rocky Mountain States to fish 52 rivers in 52 weeks.  , She recounts her adventures in 52 chapters, one for each river with great stories about fly-fishing, people she meets along the way, and her own personal joys and fears.  Each chapter is accompanied by beautiful photographs.  An incredible journey!

The Hunt for Giant Trout:  25 Best Places In the United States to Catch a Trophy—Landon Mayer

The smiling face of peripatetic fly fisherman Landon Mayer is well-known to most western anglers through the many articles he has written and seminars he has conducted at major angling shows.  Mayer, a resident of Colorado, has put together a winner with his The Hunt For Giant Trout.  Mayer first discusses strategies and techniques for the leviathans, then takes the reader on a tour of 25 locations, most in the western United States.  The book garners more cred because Mayer is joined by locals who frequently fish the chosen sites.

49 Trout Streams Of Southern Colorado—Mark Williams and W. Chad McPhail

This is one of my all-time favorite guidebooks, authored by two anglers from Amarillo, Texas.  Williams and McPhail have a friendly, engaging style as they cover most of the major rivers and streams south of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  While they fish the well-known rivers like the Gunnison, Arkansas, and Rio Grande, the real value in the book for many anglers, including me, is the little-known small creek gems they have uncovered like the Lake Fork of the Conejos and La Jara Creek.  Two pages are devoted to each water including beautiful color photos, directions to access the creek or river, a description of the water (e.g., riffles, plunge pools, meanders), and tips on best flies. 

Fly Fishing The Gunnison Country—Doug Dillingham

This is a guidebook that in exhaustive fashion covers virtually all the main fishable rivers, streams, and mountain lakes in that trout mecca,Gunnison County, Colorado.  Dillingham is intimately familiar with each, and his extensive knowledge and unique personality comes shining through on every page.  He goes into detail regarding access points, types of fish present and data on each, hatches, and recommended flies with additional tips from local fishing guides.  All-in-all, a model of what a guidebook should be.

Central Colorado Alpine Lakes Fishing And Hiking Guide–Tom Parkes

If good stream fishing guidebooks are relatively few and far between, those that cover alpine lakes are even rarer. This one that focuses on 21 high country lakes in central Colorado is a model of what a good guidebook should be. Written by Colorado native Tom Parkes, it has clear directions regarding trailheads and access, advice on the best flies and lures, specific areas of each lake that are productive, and gorgeous photos to boot. You can readily tell that Parkes actually fished each water, often several times, over the ten-year period it took to research and write this book. I found several of my now-favorite lakes through Tom’s little gem.

Saltwater

Before recommending any books in this category, I have a confession to make with regard to saltwater sport fishing.  I am relatively new to the chase, having lived in Florida part of the year only since 2006.  Also, my fishing has been mostly inshore and backcountry, not blue water.  What is surprising is that there are relatively few books on saltwater fishing, and even fewer on saltwater fly fishing.  Saltwater fly fishing was in its formative years in the 1950s, with renowned anglers like Ted Williams, Joe Brooks, and Stu Apt leading the way.  There were few publications of any real consequence until the 1960s.  Here is a sampling of those that I have found valuable.

Before recommending any books in this category, I have a confession to make with regard to saltwater sport fishing.  I am relatively new to the chase, having lived in Florida part of the year only since 2006.  Also, my fishing has been mostly inshore and backcountry, not blue water.  What is surprising is that there are relatively few books on saltwater fishing, and even fewer on saltwater fly fishing.  Saltwater fly fishing was in its formative years in the 1950s, with renowned anglers like Ted Williams, Joe Brooks, and Stu Apt leading the way.  There were few publications of any real consequence until the 1960s.  Here is a sampling of those that I have found valuable.

SaltWater Fly Fishing (1950)–Joe Brooks

Joe Brooks was the prime mover in the 1950s in creating the sport of salt water fly fishing. He wrote this seminal book on the subject in 1950. It has been updated several times since. Brooks was perhaps the most famous fly fisherman in the 50s and 60s, helping Curt Gowdy to create the first television hunting and fishing show The American Sportsman in 1965. One of the first fishing books I purchased in 1966 as a teenager in Kansas was his Complete Guide To Fishing Across The United States, stoking my angling wanderlust.

Salt-Water Fly Fishing (1969)–George X. Sand

Sand’s book, published in 1969, was one of the first to popularize salt water fly fishing.  A true pioneer in bringing saltwater fly fishing to the masses, he writes in an engaging style, adding history to the narrative, and doesn’t overload the reader with technical information and advice.  One of the most serendipitous events of my life has been to cross paths with Sand’s daughter, Gayle, and her husband Tom Norton this past year in the Everglades where we all spend the winter.  As Gayle recounts, she often went with her father on his Florida fishing expeditions when she was a teenager.  She tells a hilarious story of how Sands managed to get such wonderful photos of leaping fish like the barracuda on the book’s cover.  According to Gayle, who is a tall lovely lady, her father would catch a fish then make her wade out into deep water and toss it in the air to be photographed as if he was in the middle of a pier six brawl with his quarry.  That’s just too absurd of a story not to be true!

Fly Fishing In Salt Water (1974)—Lefty Kreh

The inimitable Lefty Kreh moved to Miami, Florida, in the mid-1960s and began to fly fish saltwater in the Keys.  By 1974 he shared his knowledge about how to catch a range of saltwater sport fish like bonefish, tarpon, snook, and permit in this book which has been updated several times and has sold thousands of copies.  He covers a range of topics such as best flies, how to wade the flats, and salt water casting techniques.  Sadly for the angling world, Krey passed away in 2018

Complete Book Of Saltwater Fishing—Milt Rosko

First published in 2001 and updated several times since, Rosko’s book is a comprehensive guide to all types of salt water fishing including from bridges, surf, flats and off shore.  He covers a wide range of topics from tackle to technique to how to cook your catch, all in plain English.  This book is a good one for beginners and those wanting to involve the entire family in the sport.

Blues—John Hersey

John Hersey was a ground-breaking journalist/writer who first made his mark at the end of WWII with a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Bell For Adano, a story about the Allied occupation of a town in Sicily.  He soon followed with a magazine-length article in the New Yorker  titled  “Hiroshima” that recounted the impact of the first atomic bomb on six Japanese citizens.  Hersey went on to write numerous other books and articles and teach writing courses at Yale.  He is probably the only angling writer who has been honored with a Postal Service stamp in his name.  Somehow in the midst of all this prolific production, he penned a book of angling for Bluefish, a quarry prized by saltwater fishermen for their aggressive fighting spirit.  As one reviewer noted, it is a paean to Bluefish that is chummed with  “gobbets of ichthyology, oceanography, seamanship, and fishing lore.”  The organization of the book is rather artificial—a sage old fisherman and neophyte angler meet serendipitously then spend a summer on 12 fishing trips chasing Blues.  For each trip Hersey weaves in fishing tips, thoughts on what motivates anglers, random ocean tidbits, recipes for preparing Bluefish dinners, poems from poets who wrote about fish, and an eloquent, prescient warning about the coming environmental disaster for the seas.  Eclectic indeed, but a good read.

Ninety Two In the Shade—Tom McGuane

When I became a snowbird and took up winter residence in Florida in 2006, I began casting about not only for how-to books but also novels involving salt water fishing that would be a good read.  One of the first that I stumbled on was by my favorite fishing writer, Tom McGuane, titled Ninety-Two In The Shade.  Set in the Keys, it is a tale about a spoiled, profligate young man who decides to get his life together.  He makes a fateful decision to start a fishing guide service and immediately runs aground on the shoals of a couple of crusty, older guides who resent his competition.  That’s when the fireworks begin. The book was made into a movie starring Peter Fonda as the young guide and Warren Oates and Harry Dean Stanton as his antagonists.  Oddly, the movie, which was directed by McGuane and received modest reviews, was reportedly filmed mainly in England.

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME: INSTALLMENT #2

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded time for many of us to fish and to also catch up on reading and reflect. While on the water when I catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading. Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure. If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books. Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change. For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing. Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist. Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade. The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 60).

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists. I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine. So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each. I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.” I will be posting the list in a series of five installments. I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have.

The first installment in the series focused on those I consider the Best Literature.  This second installment covers three categories from the list below:  Storytellers, Anthologies, and Oddities.

Installment 1 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/01/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time/

Installment 3 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/09/11/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-3/

Installment 4 Link: https://hooknfly.com/?p=7807

Installment 5 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/10/22/best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-5/

The Categories:

Best Literature

The Storytellers

Anthologies

Oddities

Funny Bone Ticklers

Zen of Fishing

How To/Technical Expertise

Science and Entomology of Fishing

Travel

Saltwater

History of Fishing

Fish That Shaped World History

The “To Read” List

THE STORYTELLERS

Some of the best fishing books are those penned by accomplished storytellers—writers who relate short, entertaining vignettes and brief evocative descriptions of the angling experience.  John Gierach immediately springs to mind among today’s authors.  Most anglers have heard of him and enjoy his work as I do, but what about Robert Traver?  Traver and Gierach are at the tip top of my list of storytellers, always able to make me laugh and reflect as I recognize my own trials and tribulations on the waters chasing trout.

Trout Madness, being a dissertation on the symptoms and pathology of this incurable disease by one of its victims–Robert Traver (Judge John Voelker)

Before Gierach, Robert Traver was the king of spinning fishing yarns. Trout Madness was published in 1960 under the pseudonym of Robert Traver. In a bygone era when hardly anyone made a living out of writing about fishing, attorney John Voelker (AKA Robert Traver) published Trout Madness which recounts through 21 short stories his adventures and misadventures on the streams and ponds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One of the most entertaining is the piece delving into the history of his fishing car, Buckshot. By 1958 Voelker had already established himself as a gifted writer with his best-seller, Anatomy of a Murder, a true story that Otto Preminger turned into an Academy Award nominee starring James Stewart. Voelker soon thereafter retired as a justice of the Michigan Supreme Court to focus on his writing. He followed up with another popular angling book, Trout Magic.

Trout Bum–John Gierach

Gierach is a worthy successor to Robert Traver as the sports’ premier storyteller and his early work, Trout Bum,  is one of his best.  A Colorado resident, Gierach published Trout Bum in 1986, popularizing that term in a book that has become a cult classic and is still my favorite among his prolific productions.  In a series of short stories and tales he captures in a witty fashion the essence, delight, and sometimes comic nature of fly fishing.  Since then he has published 19 other books in the same vein, one about every two-three years. His latest has just been released—Dumb Luck And The Kindness Of Strangers.  All are good reads but are somewhat repetitive.  One of my favorite fishing quips comes from an angler in one of Gierach’s tales, a definition of a fishing buddy:  “Yeah he can be an a**hole, but we get along most of the time.”  As an aside, Gierach probably has the most mispronounced last name among fishing authors.  Variations include Gee-rack, Guy-rish, Guy-rack, etc.  It’s Gear-ash from his own mouth in a musky fishing video that can be found on the web.

ANTHOLOGIES

Fishing has generated more books and literature than any other sport, reflecting its long history and millions of practitioners.  Perhaps as much as any genre of writing, fishing also has a surfeit of anthologies—a collection of stories by multiple authors in one book.   Usually made up of short stories or brief excerpts from a book, anthologies are perfect when you only have a limited time to read a story or two and don’t feel like plunging into a book-length commitment.  They are also a great way to introduce yourself to new writers and their works that you may decide are worth delving into.  I discovered Jim Harrison in that way.  I have listed three of my favorite anthologies below, each compiled by a noted author or publisher who is also an avid, accomplished angler.  Get one, settle back, and enjoy. 

Fisherman’s Bounty/The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories/Hook, Line, and Sinker—Nick Lyons

Perhaps more than any one person in the modern area, Nick Lyons is responsible for identifying and publishing gifted angling writers.  Lyons was a college English professor and then an executive editor for Crown Publishers, a major press. He went on to create his own publishing company, Lyons Press, which has earned a deserved reputation as the leading publisher of quality fishing books.  His first anthology and still one of the best is Fisherman’s Bounty which came out in 1970.  It includes writings from historical figures like Izaak Walton as well as stories from modern day authors who changed the course of fly fishing with their books in the 1950s-60s like Ernest Schwiebert (Matching the Hatch), and Vincent Marinaro (In The Ring of The Rise).  More recent anthologies like The Gigantic Book of Fishing Stories, which sports an incredible array of writers from Rudyard Kipling to Tom McGuane and John McPhee, and his latest, Hook, Line, and Sinker, carry on his tradition of wonderful anthologies.

Because of his tremendous impact on fly fishing literature, I am including this illuminating interview with Lyons from Fly Dreamers:

Fd: When did you start fly fishing? Can you tell us your memories from those days?

Nick: I had fished from before memory but I only started to fly fish seriously in my early 20s and was immediately mad for it. I had no instruction and found that I could not cast well when I threaded the line through the keeper ring. I fished in Michigan when I was in graduate school and caught nothing in the great AuSable. Back in NYC I fished a little club stream in New Jersey to which an army friend belonged–and finally began to get some fish, which made it all more worthwhile.

Fd: What are the reasons that made you start writing about fishing? What do you think drives people to do that?

Nick: I had been writing literary criticism but one day in my thirties I took a memorable trip to the Beaverkill with a remarkable new friend and immediately wrote “Mecca” and a little later “First Trout, First Lie” about a trout I had gigged in a small Catskill stream in mid-summer. FIELD & STREAM published them a few months later, my first writing about fishing. I loved the new “voice” I had found, so far from the heavy academic prose I had been writing.

Fd: How did you start working on publishing fly fishing books? How did you come across such great authors and works on the early days?

Nick: I was teaching English at Hunter College and (with four young children) took a second job at Crown Publishers. I wanted books closer to my heart than the commercial fare they published. Art Flick’s STREAMSIDE GUIDE was out of print and I wanted a copy so I got the rights and that was the first. Crown asked me to put together an anthology and I compiled FISHERMAN’S BOUNTY and happily this put me in touch with a whole host of first-rate writers, like Marinaro, whom I published next.

Fd: What can you tell us about the process of finding new authors?

Nick: There’s no substitute for reading widely, in all of the magazines on the subject, and in my case I asked just about everyone I came in contact with–or published–for their suggestions and pursued matters from there. I always leaned toward the literary but for non-fiction I tried to think of what “needed” to be done–Lefty Kreh on saltwater fly fishing, Swisher-Richards on new patterns–always the best I could find on worthwhile subjects.

Fd: Out of curiosity, what are the all-time top selling books on fly fishing?

Nick: SELECTIVE TROUT, ART FLICK’S STREAMSIDE GUIDE, PRACTICAL FISHING KNOTS, and THE ORVIS FLY FISHING GUIDE.

Fd: What are your thoughts on the amount of information available on the internet in contrast to the magazine and book industry?

Nick: I try not to follow the internet and consider most of it too simplified, in too many “bites”.

Fd: What are your all-time favorite books and authors related to the outdoors and fly fishing? What recent books would you recommend?

Nick: Ted Leeson, THE HABIT OF RIVERS. Roderick Haig Brown, A RIVER NEVER SLEEPS. Norman Maclean, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. Tom McGuane, anything he writes.

Fd: You have published the collected writings of Hemingway and Traver on fishing. Do you think it is possible, in these times, to have another outdoors writer of this level? Or having one that achieves the success of Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It?

Nick: I doubt if anyone can match the sales of Maclean, which had a movie to push it along. But McGuane is every bit their equal, though very different.

Fd: How do you envision the future of fly fishing literature?

Nick: It’s getting harder to winnow out the best, with so many people in the pool–but you don’t need a lot of strong writers at any given time, and there are a lot I like. Practical writing is becoming more sophisticated in technical matters–color photography, for example.

Fd: A good fishing story is surely not enough, and a good writer still needs something to write about. What advice would you give to those who want to write about fly fishing?

Nick: Always read the best being written by others–and write from the heart not for the purse. Quintilian says: The heart makes the eloquence.

Fd: Being a key figure in the fly fishing editorial world, have you got a particular aim or message to give out to the global fly fishing community?

Nick: Write less, write more carefully, read the best, write from the heart, avoid all fads.

Fd: Do you consider it important to know about fly fishing history? Why?

Nick: Sure. Faulkner says the past is never past and fly fishing is no exception: knowledge of the past colors everything we do. I’m a passionate supporter of our museums, which preserve and celebrate the past. Some writers, like Theodore Gordon, are eminently wise and readable and often tell us much that we’re forgotten.

Fd: Some fishing. What is your favorite kind of fly fishing (dries, nymphing, streamers, etc.) and what are your favorite spots?

Nick: Dry flies on chalk streams and spring creeks (like a couple I know in Montana).

Fd: As a final point, what does fly fishing mean to you?

Nick: Too much to answer briefly. I guess all the books and articles I’ve written address this. Or I hope so.

Silent Season—Russell Chatham

Russell Chatham, who passed away recently, was a prolific writer of fishing books, but was best known for his beautiful, highly-sought-after artwork that often featured outdoor and angling scenes.  His anthology, first published in 1978 and again in 1988, introduced me to a bevy of writers I had never heard of like Jim Harrison, Jack Curtis, and Harmon Henkin.  It also includes Tom McGuane’s jewel, “The Longest Silence.” A bonus is the illustrations in the book by Chatham.

Into The Backing—Incredible True Stories About The Big Ones That Got Away—And The Ones That Didn’t—Lamar Underwood

What angler could possibly resist a book with this title?  An interesting anthology as it has a unifying them—fighting big fish!  Underwood definitely has the credentials to pull together such a tome—he is the former editor-in-chief of Sports Afield and Outdoor Life. This is one of my favorite anthologies with a smorgasbord of authors ranging from Joe Brooks (The Hat Trick), Roderick Haig-Brown (Episodes from Fisherman’s Spring), and Zane Grey (The Dreadnaught Pool). 

ODDITIES

There is a select group of fishing books that can only be described as outside-the-box oddities.  After reading them you can only shake your head, bemused and semi-bewildered at the fertile mind of the authors who concocted these books and tales.  The first in particular is a mind-blower!

Trout Fishing In America—Richard Brautigan

Leading the pack by a fair margin is Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing In America.  Brautigan, a cross between a beatnick and hippie, was a counter-culture, youth movement icon in the riotous 1960s.  Trout Fishing America was published in 1967 and sold over 4 million copies—probably a record among modern angling books.  This is a challenging book to read.  Trout Fishing In America turns out to be a person searching for the meaning of life.  If you can get by this and other odd constructs in the book (perhaps with the assistance of a little cannabis), you will discover some real gems like my favorite vignette, “The Hunchback Trout.”  Brautigan was clearly an avid angler as well as a writer, poet, and free spirit.

Blues—John Hersey

John Hersey was a ground-breaking journalist/writer who first made his mark at the end of WWII with a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Bell For Adano, a story about the Allied occupation of a town in Sicily.  He soon followed with a magazine-length article in the New Yorker  titled  “Hiroshima” that recounted the impact of the first atomic bomb on six Japanese citizens.  Hersey went on to write numerous other books and articles and teach writing courses at Yale.  He is probably the only angling writer who has been honored with a Postal Service stamp in his name.  Somehow in the midst of all this prolific production, he penned a book of angling for Bluefish, a quarry prized by saltwater fishermen for their aggressive fighting spirit.  As one reviewer noted, it is a paean to Bluefish that is chummed with  “gobbets of ichthyology, oceanography, seamanship, and fishing lore.”  The organization of the book is rather artificial—a sage old fisherman and neophyte angler meet serendipitously on a dock and then spend a summer on 12 fishing trips chasing Blues.  For each trip Hersey weaves in fishing tips, thoughts on what motivates anglers, random ocean tidbits, recipes for preparing Bluefish dinners, poems from poets who wrote about fish, and an eloquent, prescient warning about the coming environmental disaster for the seas.  Eclectic indeed, but a good read.

The Feather Thief, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century—Kirk Wallace Johnson

Another book by a journalist, The Feather Thief could be in a class of its own.  It is an oddity not because of the idiosyncrasies of the author and his writing style,  but because of the outrageously bizarre true tale it tells.  Try to imagine a secretive group of fly tiers who will do just about anything and pay any price to get their hands on plumes from endangered and extinct birds so they can tie their gaudy traditional salmon flies to exact specifications set forth in antique books.  Then further imagine among them a young accomplished American flautist/fly tier who in 2009 breaks into a branch of the British Museum outside London and steals the skins of hundreds of rare birds, some centuries old that were gathered by renowned explorers and naturalists.  He proceeds to sell them for thousands of dollars.  Will he be caught and punished?  What happened to all those priceless skins?  It all adds up to an intriguing true-crime novel.

Installment Three will cover Funny Bone Ticklers, Zen of Fishing, and How To/Technical Expertise

THE BEST FISHING BOOKS OF ALL TIME

August 2020

Introduction

The Corona virus has afforded many of us the time to fish and also catch up on reading and do some reflecting on life. When I’m on the water and catch a fish using a technique or fly I read about years ago, I sometimes find myself reminiscing about the best books on fishing I have had the pleasure of reading. Some taught me a new technique like using a dry/dropper while others were fiction and just pure reading pleasure. If you search online, you will find numerous of lists of the Top 10, 25, and even 50 angling books. Of course these lists change from decade-to-decade as new works are published, older books fade out fashion, or interests change. For example, the 1970s and 80s saw a plethora of tomes like Swisher and Richards Selective Trout that embraced a more scientific approach to fishing. Once you were done reading some of these, you were nearly qualified as an entomologist. Far fewer of that ilk have been published in the last decade. The list I offer here is entirely personal, and given my advanced age, I hope it introduces some of the best of past, especially pre-2000 publications, to the up and coming, energetic angling young bloods of today (AKA anyone under 40).

The format I have chosen is somewhat different than most other “best” lists. I find it hard to compare a serious literary work of someone like Tom McGuane’s The Longest Silence with a funny-bone tickling raucous tale such as Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen or a technical tome on caddis flies by Gary LaFontaine. So I have divided my list into a baker’s dozen categories with a few select books in each. I end with a category of books I have yet to read but are “musts.” I will be posting the list in a series of five installments. This first installment focuses on the category “Best Literature.” I hope you enjoy perusing my choices, and would welcome hearing of any additions you may have.

Installment 2 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/08/09/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-2/?fbclid=IwAR3uBFsuuSQqAaiHnie6LT3Jhu-PyCm_18sjjmIQeSmognnyJ-8lVyny-34

Installment 3 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/09/11/the-best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-3/

Installment 4 Link: https://hooknfly.com/?p=7807

Installment 5 Link: https://hooknfly.com/2020/10/22/best-fishing-books-of-all-time-installment-5/

The Categories:

Best Literature (Discussed in detail below)

  • The Longest Silence (Tom McGuane)
  • A River Runs Through It (Norman Maclean)
  • The River Why (David James Duncan)
  • The Nick Adams Story (Ernest Hemingway)
  • My Moby Dick (William Humphrey)

The Story Tellers

  • Trout Madness (Robert Traver)
  • Trout Bum (John Gierach)

Anthologies

  • Fisherman’s Bounty/Full Creel (Nick Lyons)
  • Silent Season (Russell Chatham
  • Into The Backing (Lamar Underwood)

Oddities

  • Trout Fishing In America (Richard Brautigan)
  • Blues (John Hersey)
  • The Feather Thief (Kirk Wallace Johnson)

Funny Bone Ticklers

  • Double Whammy and Skinny Dip (Carl Hiassen)
  • True Love And The Woolly Bugger (Dave Ames)
  • So Long And Thanks For All The Fish:  Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Book 4 (Douglas Adams)

The Zen Of Fishing

  • The Longest Silence (Tom McGuane)
  • Goodbye To A River (John Graves)
  • The Zen of Fish:  The Story of Sushi (Trevor Carson)

How To/Technical Expertise

  • Streamside Guide To Naturals And Their Imitations (Art Flick)
  • Fly Fishing The Mountain Lakes (Gary LaFontaine)
  • Trout From Small Streams  (Dave Hughes)
  • The Orvis Guide To Small Stream Fly Fishing (Tom Rosenbauer)
  • Fly Casting Techniques  (Joan Wulff)
  • What The Trout Said (Datus Proper)
  • In The Ring Of The Rise  (Vincent Marinaro)
  • Through The Fishes Eye  (Mark Sosin and John Clark)
  • Lefty’s Little Fly-Fishing Tips  (Lefty Kreh)

Science And Entomology Of Fishing

  • Matching The Hatch  (Ernest Schwiebert)
  • Selective Trout  (Doug Swisher and Carl Richards)
  • Stoneflies  (Carl Richards, Doug Swisher, and Fred Arbona, Jr._
  • Caddisflies  (Gary LaFontaine)
  • The Complete Book Of Western Hatches (Rick Hafele and Dave Hughes)
  • Guide To Aquatic Trout Foods  (Dave Whitlock)
  • Mayflies  (Malcolm Knopp and Robert Courmier
  • Hatch Guide For Western Streams/Lakes  (Jim Schollmeyer)
  • The Bug Book  (Paul Weamer)

Travel/Guidebooks

  • Fly-Fishing the 41st  (James Prosek)
  • 52 Rivers:  A Woman’s Fly-Fishing Journey  (Shelly Walchak)
  • The Hunt For Giant Trout  (Landon Mayer)
  • 49 Trout Streams Of Southern Colorado  (Mark Williams and W. Chad McPhail)
  • Fly Fishing The Gunnison Country  (Doug Dillingham)
  • Central Colorado Alpine Lakes Hiking and Fishing Guide  (Tom Parkes)

Saltwater

  • Saltwater Fly Fishing  (Joe Brooks)
  • Salt-Water Fly Fishing (George X. Sands)
  • Fly Fishing In Salt Water  (Lefty Krey)
  • Complete Book Of Saltwater Fishing  (Milt Rosko)
  • Blues  (John Hersey)
  • Ninety Two In The Shade  (Tom McGuane)

History Of Fishing

  • The Compleat Angler  (Izaak Walton and Charles Cotton)
  • American Fly Fishing:  A History  (Paul Schullery)
  • The History Of Fly-Fishing In Fifty Flies  (Ian Whitelaw)

Fish That Shaped The World

  • Cod:  A Biography Of The Fish That Changed The World  (Mark Walker Kurlansky)
  • Shad:  The Founding Fish  (John McPhee)
  • An Entirely Synthetic Fish:  How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America And Overran The World  (Anders Halverson)

The “To Read” List

  • River Music  (James Babb)
  • Fishing For Buffalo  (Robb Bufler and Tom Dickson)
  • Fifty Women Who Fish  (Steve Kantner)
  • Hungry Ocean:  A Swordboat Captain’s Journey  (Linda Greenlaw)
  • Cutthroat And Campfire Tales:  The Fly-Fishing Heritage Of The West  (John Monnett

Best Literature

I distinguish this category from others by several measures.  First, does the book and writing appeal to non-anglers?  If it does, that definitely says something.  Second, what do other accomplished authors who have written acclaimed books have to say about it?  The authors on my list below are real craftsmen with words.  And finally, was it interesting enough to be made into a movie? 

1.  The Longest Silence:  A Life In Fishing—Thomas McGuane

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The Longest Silence is a series of keenly observed essays about the lessons and insights McGuane gleaned from a lifetime spent fishing. James Harrison, a peripatetic poet, novelist, and essayist who himself wrote about fishing and whose novel Legends of the Fall was made into a movie, calls it the best book on angling of all time. I must agree. In his essays, McGuane takes us around the world fishing for tarpon to trout and introduces us to some memorable characters along the way. McGuane, who lives in Montana and continues to write and fish, wrote several other notable books on the outdoors and fishing including his debut novel, The Sporting Club, a dark comedy about the intergenerational conflict between young whippersnapper Baby Boomers and the Greatest Generation. Sound familiar Millenials and GenXers? Another good read, Ninety Two In The Shade, a tale of a young fishing guide running into trouble in the Florida Keys was made into a movie starring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates.

2.  A River Runs Through It—Norman Maclean

Norman MacLean was an English professor at University of Chicago while I was studying there to become a lawyer.  He never wrote a book until he retired, but when he did in 1976, Maclean produced a lyrical, heartbreaking semi-biographical story that became a blockbuster.  One line in A River Runs Through It describes how many of us anglers feel about our sport: “I am haunted by waters.”  In 1992 Robert Redford directed an excellent movie that was true to the book starring Brad Pitt and Tom Skerritt.   As an aside, Maclean’s son John penned a riveting book, Fire On The Mountain, about a wildfire that took the lives of 14 firefighters near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

3.  The River Why—David James Duncan

How can any angler resist a book that mixes fly fishing, family, and baseball?  However, this is a book that has probably been read by more non-anglers than any other on this list.  The main character Gus is a child fishing prodigy who after he graduates from school sets out to fish his brains out according to a rigourous schedule on the mythical Tamanawis River.  After he finds the body of a dead angler, Gus starts his real journey in life, finding love along the way.  The author Duncan wrote several other acclaimed novels, and The River Why was turned into a movie starring Zach Gifford, Dallas Roberts, and William Hunt that unfortunately did not live up to the book.

4.  Big Two-Hearted River—Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway won a Nobel Prize for his story Old Man And The Sea, so I risk sacrilege by saying for my money his Big Two-Hearted River, the concluding installment in his semi-autobiographical series The Nick Adams Stories, is a better one, especially for anglers.  This tale is about a young man, Nick Adams, just back from World War I and suffering from shell shock, who takes off on a fishing trip to clear his head.  Hemingway’s writing in Big Two-Hearted River is his usual spare, pure style.  As a young law school student in Chicago and aspiring fly fisherman, I loved that title, read the book, and set out to fish the Big Two-Hearted River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Fortunately, before I set out I learned that like many in the fishing fraternity, Hemingway was damned if he was going to give away the name and location of a favorite fishing spot.  It was actually the Fox River which I fished one summer between classes, a canoe trip that featured clouds of man-eating mosquitos, few fish, and ended in near disaster when our canoe flipped and we lost our paddles 10 miles from civilization in a dense forest.  Fortunately soon after we started to walk out I spotted one paddle in a sweeper, and we were able to retrieve it and float to safety.

5.  My Moby Dick—William Humphrey

Of all the books on this list, this spare short one is probably the least known and rarely mentioned in the same breath as any of the others.  But as one reviewer wrote, “one of the finest fishing stories ever published, My Moby Dick is a small masterpiece about a whale of a fish.”  In a nutshell, Humphrey spends an entire summer chasing with his fly rod a huge one-eyed trout that he serendipitously stumbles on in a small creek near his vacation home.  Along the way, through his elegant, erudite writing, English professor Humphrey shows us what real literature and writing are like even in telling a fish story.  Humphrey came to writing My Moby Dick after penning acclaimed non-angling books such as Home From The Hill and The Ordways.  Thank our lucky stars he was also an aspiring angler and shared this hilarious tale with us.  It is chock full of wry, smart observations about fly fishing and anglers who pursue trout. Here is but one example:

I had never known a fly fisherman. Since my ignominious failure to make myself one and my retrogression to worms, I had not wanted to know one. …But even if I had known one, known him well, I would not have trusted myself to seek his help now. Indeed, I would have shunned him altogether. He would have surely notice my state of excitement. His curiosity would have been piqued. My eagerness, my impatience to learn and to put my knowledge to work, would have given me away. A wild look, that of one who has gazed on wonders, haunted my eyes in those days. Fly fisherment are a suspicious crew, and their suspicions run on one thing. My secret would have been guessed, and I would have been shadowed to its soure in Shadow Brook.”

Honorable Mention:

A couple of other books that could be on this list are Howell Raines’, Fly Fishing Through The Mid-Life Crisis and Harry Middleton’, The Earth Is Enough: Growing Up In A World of Flyfishing,Trout, and Old Men.  Raines had a storied career with the New York Times before he penned this book after a nasty divorce, producing a beautiful meditation on the “disciplined, beautiful, and unessential activity” we call fly fishing.  Middleton’s book is a memoir of his growing up in the Ozarks and chasing trout with the two old codgers who raise him.  In the process he learns not only the art of fly fishing but also about the beauty and value of nature in life.

The next installment of Best Books will cover Storytellers, Anthologies, and Oddities.